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A Year of COVID in Two Minutes

Just a year ago, as the pandemic spread around the world, the lives of billions of people changed dramatically. Here is a short video that shows the most impactful moments of the crisis through an emotional narrative.

Boarding an international flight, gathering for a wedding, going to a conference, or simply eating out with friends sounds like science fiction these days. A pathogen belonging to the Coronavirus family somehow found a transmission route to humans before spreading all over the world. We already know the rest of the story, and unfortunately, we may have a long recovery ahead of us with the emergence of new variants.

Like anyone else in the US, I’ve been affected by the impacts of the pandemic, though I’ve been lucky not to become infected to this day. The past 12 months have been extraordinary — and not in a good way. Since most of my creative projects have come to a halt, I decided to retrace this period in a short two-minute video. The idea was to express the madness of these events, from the emergence of the virus to the present days and beyond.

What’s the Message?

Generally, I tend to avoid giving a message through my work because it sounds pretentious. Who am I to lecture the world? What do I know about other people suffering? I prefer to create a video that captures the state of society or simply shows the beauty of a particular subject. Obviously, my personal vision is subjective by definition and many are not going to agree with my way of thinking and representing the pandemic. That’s perfectly understandable and respectable.

Several people commented on the dark nature of the video and the fact that it doesn’t offer much hope. Looking back, perhaps I should have focused on the end of the pandemic with the emergence of the vaccines and the incoming hope for a quick recovery. However, even though this video focuses on the pandemic, the title "Sick World" reflects a darker reality, with the emergence of incompetent leaders all over the world, the rise of fake news and conspiracy theories, the attacks on democracy, and finally, the general inaction to fight climate change. The last part of the video shows the future risk we face if we don't act quickly to limit our carbon emissions. Unlike the virus, there will be no cure or vaccine against climate change, ocean acidification, change of ocean currents and atmospheric patterns, as well as the degradation of biodiversity. When a species dies, there is no going back.

So, in this sense, this virus is just an appetizer for the disaster to come. Rahm Emanuel, the former Obama chief of staff and mayor of Chicago, once said: "You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that is it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before." I believe we have an opportunity to wake up and realize how serious the climate emergency really is. The COVID warning is the last signal before it's too late.

Beyond this personal point of view, I just wanted to express a general idea of “shock and awe” with this major tragedy that affected so many people: the direct victims of the virus and their relatives, the exhausted medical staff who gave and continue to give all they can to save lives, the many business owners struggling to keep their companies afloat, and all the essential workers who put their health at risk to satisfy our most basic needs. As a public memorial to honor fallen heroes, I want to give visibility to all these people when numbers fail to describe the tragedy of this pandemic. In the USA alone, the coronavirus killed more people than World War II (500,000 versus 400,000 deaths). All that in just one year. Of course, comparing a global conflict claiming the lives of a young generation with a more diffuse pandemic is not necessarily the same, but it gives a general idea of the scale of this human tragedy.

In any case, this video is mainly a conceptual project filled with impactful and emotional images that retrace the madness of the previous year.

Production and Editing

About 700 images and a few video clips were used to produce this video. I edited the project with Adobe Premiere Pro over several weeks, as the assembly can quickly become tedious and boring. Most of the pictures were purchased from several stock agencies. As a photographer, I usually don’t purchase images, but I realized how cheap stock images are nowadays. Most pictures can be purchased for a few cents. While it was very helpful for my non-commercial project, no photographer can seriously make a living out of the stock image business, especially when these platforms take up to 80% of the cut.

The images generally appear for up to three to five frames (1/10th to 1/6th of a second), which is enough to be recorded by our brain. The key is to align a series of relatively similar images to create the illusion of continuity. Matching the audio track with visuals is also critical to maintaining the global consistency of the project. I manually scrubbed the timeline frame by frame and placed markers directly in the project or on the audio track, then I divided the project into several chapters before adding frames in each subsection. A few of the video clips embedded inside the project were created with Adobe After Effects and exported in ProRes format.

Conclusion

One year ago, I produced another video during the early phase of the pandemic while Miami was under partial lockdown. At the time, we naively hoped that the pandemic would vanish in a matter of months.

A year later, the situation has improved, but the virus still impacts our lives and the emergence of new variants may compromise the effectiveness of the ongoing vaccination campaign. Millions of people have been struck by this biological and economic disaster. Many of my photographer friends are struggling to make ends meet. Wedding photography is dead, corporate events are rare, and budgets are tight. Healthcare workers and essentials workers are physically and mentally exhausted. Hopefully, my modest video will help to recognize their sacrifice and express my gratitude for their efforts. Stay safe everyone.

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7 Comments

clint smith's picture

There are literally images from the 1991 Gulf War used in this video. While I understand the creative process and wanting to communicate the idea, using 30 year old images in a video about last year is untruthful.

Oliver Kmia's picture

I know but there is worse. I sneaked a picture of Justin Bieber from 2011. And for that, I must apologize.

Hugh Janus's picture

Listen "Clint". What's untruthful is calling the content of this video untruthful. Great job by a great artist.

clint smith's picture

Listen "Hugh," I never said that it wasn't a great video. It was stunning, however the headline is 2020 in two minutes...not 1991 or 2011 or any other year. It did provide about an hour of ethics discussion with my photojournalism class full of budding photojournalists.

My students literally exclaimed, "Wow," and "I liked that," until I showed them images in the video that are not from 2020. Then they felt lied to and questioned the integrity of the work.

Oliver Kmia's picture

Hi Clint, while you are technically correct, please keep in mind that this work was never intended, promoted, or labelled as an accurate photojournalism project or historical narrative. I clearly mentioned that "this video is mainly a conceptual project filled with impactful and emotional images that retrace the madness of the previous year."
First and foremost, that a conceptual video aimed to be impactful and emotional. On top of that, as explained in the article, the majority of the images come from stock agencies and are not real. For instance, many images are "reenactment" (e.g. tired nurses, poor people in the streets, etc.). That's like so called "historical movies", I re-enacted some of the event without real images. Even the famous Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima pictures was re-enacted (same for the image of soviet soldiers putting the flag on the Reichstag in Berlin)
But I hope it could help your students to understand the difference between representation and actual reporting. They should question the integrity of this work, that's the right thing to do with all the fake news narrative being pushed around these days. Just because something looks nice, feels good, and sounds about right, doesn't guarantee it's true. But also tell them that this project was never labelled or promoted as photojournalism. Cheers.

Mike O'Leary's picture

Excellent work as always, Oliver.

Oliver Kmia's picture

Thanks Mike!